By Cherie Takemoto, MPA, Project Manager
The Department of Justice (DOJ) inaugurated April 24-30 as National Reentry Week. This week is part of the effort to encourage and highlight the work that the Department of Justice has taken to make our criminal justice system fairer, more efficient, and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities. An important part of that task is preparing those who have paid their debt to society for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates, and addressing obstacles to successful reentry that too many returning citizens encounter.
According to the Department of Justice, nearly a quarter of Americans have been involved in the criminal justice system, primarily through nonviolent and minor offenses. Every year, an estimated 11.4 million individuals cycle through jails and more than 600,000 individuals return to their communities from state and local prisons. These individuals face tremendous barriers to education, training and jobs that will help them break the cycle of recidivism.
Here are some facts about how disability disproportionally affects individuals involved in the criminal justice system:
- For state prison inmates who had not received a high school diploma or GED, 59% reported a speech disability and 67% reported a learning disability.
- An estimated 36.6% of prison inmates and 43.7% of jail inmates reported they were told by a mental health professional that they had a mental health disorder.
- A traumatic brain injury was identified by 25-87% of inmates compared to 8.5% of the general population.
Though having a disability may complicate successful reentry prospects, a number of services and supports can be available, if a disability is identified.
The federal government has new initiatives to help. One is the “Ban the Box” effort to eliminate the requirement for federal job applicants to disclose a previous arrest history when applying for a job. This practice is increasingly being adopted by other employers. There are tax credits, an insurance program, and federal bonding program to encourage employers to hire ex-prisoners. The Council of State Governments Justice Center is building on a solid foundation of work related to reentry, responses to people with mental illnesses who are involved with the criminal justice system, and justice reinvestment—a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods. In addition to a rich array of resources they list a number of available funding opportunities.
So use this week as an opportunity to become better educated about reentry and share this information within your communities and with your colleagues.
One of New Editions’ efforts in this field includes working on a team, led by Jobs for the Future, to provide technical assistance to nine Improved Reentry Education demonstration program grantees. These programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, help correctional education and community partners design and implement model high quality reentry education programs that can be replicated in other communities.
New Editions provides subject matter expertise through webinars, a community of practice and direct support to grantees. We raise awareness about diagnosed and undiagnosed disabilities and contribute our expertise in disability and disability-related programs so that the grantees are better able to provide targeted services and supports that can increase the odds for successful reentry. We also intend to make resources developed through this contract available to other reentry programs throughout the country.
Cherie Takemoto is a Project Manager at New Editions. She brings over 20 years of experience managing disability advocacy and information resource programs related to transition, instructional technology, and cultural competency.